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Durango tasting room shares a bit of Southwest Colorado history in every glass of hard cider

EsoTerra relies on apples, yeast and time; avoids huge amounts of sugar and artificial flavors
EsoTerra owners Jared Scott and Elizabeth Philbrick toast recently at their new tasting room in downtown Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Durango’s new cidery tasting room, EsoTerra Ciderworks, serves up Southwest Colorado history in every hard cider it pours.

Owners Elizabeth Philbrick and Jared Scott have worked for the past couple of years to revive the historic apple industry of Montezuma County.

“We’re here to find historic varietals of apples that are specific to the flavor of the Southwest,” Philbrick said.

EsoTerra’s new Durango tasting room is located in downtown Durango at 934 Main Ave., Unit B, sharing a space with the RV rental company Outdoorsy.

About a year after opening a tasting room at its orchard in Dolores, EsoTerra has now opened what is likely the first cidery in Durango since before Prohibition, Philbrick said.

“Back in the day, cider was America’s No. 1 drink of choice in rural communities, because almost anywhere in the U.S. you can grow an apple tree,” she said. “As far as a modern cidery with state-based liquor licenses, we’re the first in Durango.”

EsoTerra serves an array of hard ciders that feature apples from Montezuma County at its new tasting room in downtown Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

EsoTerra is a family business. Scott ferments the cider, and Philbrick runs the tasting room. Both pick apples while their two young children run around underfoot.

“We handpick our fruit as a family,” Philbrick said.

Those looking for modern sugary sweet “soda-pop cider,” as Philbrick calls them, should look elsewhere. EsoTerra ferments its cider much more like a winery than the popular commercial ciders on the market.

“All of our ciders are just apples, yeast and a period of time,” she said. “Most modern American ciders are made in huge batches with added sugar, artificial flavors and artificial colors.”

EsoTerra ferments its cider in a more European style, using cold fermentation to bring out more aromatic flavors in the apples, whereas most ciders in the U.S. are fermented at room temperature.

“When you cold-ferment there are more aromatics,” Scott said. “It tastes more complex. The way I describe it is a bouquet of flavors, whereas warmer fermented ciders can be very harsh tasting and kind of burn in your mouth.”

What sets EsoTerra apart is the apples it uses to make its cider, which include regional varieties that can sometimes come from trees that are well over 100 years old.

A flight of handcrafted ciders is served at EsoTerra, the first cidery tasting room to open in Durango since before Prohibition, owners say. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“Some of the apple varieties we work with in our region are from 130 years ago,” Scott said. “We have so many different kinds of cider because we’ve got amazing access to apple diversity in our region.”

Said Philbrick: “A lot of these apples are some of the last known of their kind in the country.”

Montezuma County has an extremely diverse variety of apples, she said.

“Our region has over 6,000 apple trees. There’s over 500 known varieties of apple in our region, there’s another 100 varieties that are unknown but are clearly planted. Then there are hundreds of unknown feral-type apples,” she said. “Each one of those apples has a very unique flavor.”

It’s important to note that the apples EsoTerra uses aren’t the same apples you would buy in a grocery store. Much like wine grapes, many of the apples in the region are tart, and wouldn’t be good to eat.

“Particularly good cider apples are what are oftentimes called spitters,” Philbrick said. “These are not what you think apples taste like. Oftentimes, they are so tannic and so sour that you’d think there’s no way it’s ripe, but in reality it is a ripe apple.”

Many of the older regional apple varietals EsoTerra works with have lost their names to time, so often the cidery will rename some varieties of apple it can’t identify.

Philbrick said each cider that EsoTerra makes tells a story about Southwest Colorado, and she’s excited to now share those stories with Durango.

“The tasting room is here to hear the stories. We can tell the stories of the miners that would come through the Animas Valley who would hike up to the last fruit stand on their way to Rico,” she said. “I’m happy to pour you that cider that came from the same 130-year-old apple trees that those miners were drinking cider from.”

Aside from what’s on tap, the new cidery in downtown Durango has a small selection of bottled hard ciders available for purchase. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Philbrick said many of the apples that grow around Montezuma County are not that pretty.

“The apples down here are often gnarly and sometimes russeted,” she said. “Nobody is buying a russeted apple anymore.

“... One of the reasons our apple industry came to a halt here is that we don’t have the industry set up for what’s called fancy fruit,” she said. “We’re talking about beautiful symmetrical fruit without a blemish on them that have names people recognize.”

Scott and Philbrick said the best way to enjoy many of these apples is as a cider.

“The best thing is to juice them up,” Scott said.

njohnson@durangoherald.com

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